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Blues legend Ann Rabson honored
When illness overtook local blues musician Ann Rabson and she knew that her life was coming to an end, she felt the need to record a few more songs.
Those songs became the album “Not Alone.” Thursday night, it was named the acoustic blues album of the year at The Blues Foundation’s annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tenn.
Rabson—a legendary blues singer and pianist—was a founding member of the groundbreaking all-female blues band, Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women. Both Rabson and the band called Fredericksburg home and performed regularly in the area. Saffire retired as a band in 2009 and Rabson died of cancer Jan. 30, 2013.
Her husband, George Newman, said that “Not Alone” was recorded “last summer, when she was beginning to get sick and we were beginning to realize she might not get well.
“There were a couple of songs that she really liked but never got a chance to record,” Newman said.
Rabson enlisted the help of fellow blues musician Bob Margolin, who came up from North Carolina to Fredericksburg and recorded Rabson’s vocal and piano parts in a friend’s living room. He later added his own vocals and guitar. The album, credited to “Ann Rabson w/Bob Margolin,” was released in October 2012 on VizzTone records.
The opening track on the album is a defiant gospel song that exemplifies Rabson’s attitude and music career. “I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About In My Song” was playing over the loudspeaker at Thursday’s ceremony as Rabson’s daughter, Liz Schnore, took the stage to accept the award on behalf of her mother.
“It’s such an emotional song,” Schnore said. “I was, like, they’re really trying to make me cry.”
Schnore was nervous and hadn’t slept the night before, anticipating the possibility of “Not Alone” winning the prestigious award. But when the possibility became a reality, Schnore welcomed the chance to pay tribute to her mother.
“There was so much love and support for my mom,” she said. “She would have been very proud.”
A posthumous victory can provide a mixed emotional moment. While that was certainly the case Thursday night, Rabson’s own music doesn’t allow for too much wallowing in the negative aspects of life.
She could tread the painful path of the blues with aplomb, but Rabson was also fond of extolling the positive virtues of the blues, and her songs are full of playful innuendo, humor and a hopeful, independent spirit.
That attitude served her well in her career, and Schnore said it made it a little easier to cope with her loss.
“Her being who she was has helped,” Schnore said. “She was such a positive force. She had lived her life to the fullest and did what she wanted.”
One of the things Rabson wanted to do was teach kids about the blues. A number of musical scholarships have been funded in her honor through The Pinetop Perkins Foundation in the four months since she died. Newman called the donations “a very, very nice tribute.”
Equally nice, said Schnore, was a video tribute to Rabson that played at the end of Thursday’s ceremony.
It was a fitting way to honor an important musician who had always been loved.
Newman said that Rabson had been nominated for a number of Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) in her lifetime—12 or 13 times in various categories.
“This is the first time she’s won,” Newman said. “We’re very pleased.”
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036